Limited overall impacts of ectomycorrhizal inoculation on recruitment of boreal trees into Arctic tundra following wildfire belie species-specific responses

Rebecca E. Hewitt, F. Stuart Chapin, Teresa N. Hollingsworth, Michelle C. Mack, Adrian V. Rocha, D. Lee Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


We tested whether post-fire seedling establishment of common boreal tree and expanding shrub species at treeline and in Arctic tundra is facilitated by co-migration of boreal forest mycorrhizal fungi. Wildfires are anticipated to facilitate biome shifts at the forest-tundra ecotone by improving seedbed conditions for recruiting boreal species; at the same time fire alters the composition and availability of mycorrhizal fungi critical to seedling performance. To determine the role of root-associated fungi (RAF) in post-fire seedling recruitment and future biome shifts, we outplanted four dominant boreal tree and shrub species inoculated with one of three treatments at treeline and in tundra: Burned boreal forest, unburned boreal forest, or a control treatment of sterilized inoculum. We compared survivorship, growth, and physiological performance of the seedlings in relation to mycorrhizal inoculum treatment and among host species, characterized the RAF communities based on ITS-rDNA sequencing of individual root tips sampled from surviving seedlings, and tested for correlations between RAF composition and the inoculation treatments, host species, and duration of the experiment. We explored correlations between RAF composition and seedling metrics. Both live and sterile autoclaved inoculation treatments had similar effects on seedling survivorship and growth for all species. RAF composition did not vary by treatment, suggesting that most colonization was due to local fungi. However, seedling traits and growth were correlated with RAF species composition, colonization, and the relative abundance of specific RAF taxa. Picea sp. performance in particular showed strong co-variation with RAF metrics. Our results suggest that mycorrhizal comigration is not a primary limiting factor to boreal seedling recruitment because the experimental provision of inoculum did not affect seedling recruitment; yet, RAF did influence seedling performance, particularly resident RAF at treeline and in tundra, suggesting that mycorrhizal fungi are important to vegetation processes at the treeline-tundra ecotone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0235932
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7 July
StatePublished - Jul 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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